Three years ago, the Saint Ignatius volleyball program reached the top of the mountain.
The Volleyball Cats beat the odds to achieve the unthinkable – an Ohio High School Boys Volleyball Association (OHSBVA) State Championship. The feat has been accomplished by a Northeast Ohio just four times since the OHSBVA's birth in 1988.
Twelve Wildcats begin a quest to climb the summit again in 2019. A host of challengers stand in the Wildcats' way, beginning with three top foes this weekend.
The 2019 season starts in earnest on Saturday, as the Wildcats – ranked No. 5 in the state to start the year – make a 2-hour trip south to play three of the top ten teams in the state. Cincinnati Elder, Columbus St. Charles, and Mount Vernon, the host school, will be the opponents.
"This will be a good barometer for how far we are from winning a state championship," said head coach Jacob Layden. "This will be a tough weekend against a top level of competition. We could go 3-0 or 0-3. Either way, seeing good teams early helps us understand what we have to do practice and day-to-day this season."
Whatever the results of the weekend, the Wildcats have a talented team. With five seniors, three juniors, and four sophomores, the Volleyball Cats have a good mix of youth and experience.
Three starters return to the squad, most notably Philip Catanzaro, the reigning North Region Player of the Year. The senior outside hitter will be a key piece for the blue and gold this season.
"Having him as the base for our team is a big win," Layden said. "He sets us up well for competing this year."
Other familiar faces include Vince Holzheimer, Eric Larsen, and Teddy Koncelik. All three men will be important. Having these three back in familiar positions will be helpful for the Wildcats, particularly early on in the season.
The Wildcats have many other talented non-starters from last year back on the roster this year, including Matthew Rogers and Andrew Boeckman. Rogers will anchor the Cats at libero and Boeckman will be a key figure at outside hitter. Matthew Stankewicz is another Wildcat with experience back in action.
A host of young players will see time on the court this season. Juniors Joey Enright and Alex Heath will be important figures. Sophomores Alex Bender, Aidan Monroe and James Thoma starred on the JV squad this season and will look to make the leap to varsity gracefully.
Each member of the team will need to contribute over the course of the season. The Wildcats have a stacked schedule.
"We have one of the most competitive schedules in the state," Layden said. "We have three tournaments that should put us against good out of region competition and some out of state competition. The second best team in the state, according to the preseason poll, Hilliard Darby, comes to town this year. We'll have a series of North Region teams that should push us. The game to star on the calendar for fans is the Massillon Jackson game. They're good this year, so it will be an important match. We hope to have a big crowd for that game."
All told, the Volleyball Cats have eight home matches at Sullivan Gym this season, including the opener against St. Edward. The match will be a CYO Night, with all CYO student-athletes gaining free admission to the contest.
Be sure to follow the Volleyball Cats on Twitter this season for live updates!